Renewable Energy Portfolio Standards

Duke Energy hampering investments in NC Solar farms

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It's all about the duration of contracts:

One of the nation’s biggest solar developers is challenging Duke Energy’s purchases of solar energy in a case before the North Carolina Utilities Commission. The complaint by California-based Cypress Creek Renewables focuses on an arcane topic – the term of power-purchase contracts by Duke. But its outcome could affect the way the solar industry continues to grow in the nation’s second-largest solar state.

Cypress Creek approached Duke about power purchase agreements for six large solar farms, totaling 400 megawatts, before Duke had filed its competitive-bids proposal. But Duke offered only five-year contracts instead of the longer terms usual for big projects.

This article is dated (February), but a very recent piece in the paywall-protected Charlotte Business Journal reported that Solar farm connections are down some 75% due to this new approach by Duke Energy to manipulate Solar growth in NC. Cypress Creek is a Santa Monica-based company, and has been very successful in rounding up investment dollars for NC Solar farm projects. But that measly five year contract is a killer, seriously undermining the return on investment (ROI) formula that has been so successful here. Like always, being in control is at the top of Duke Energy's list of priorities:

On the grid vs off the grid: A successful Solar revolution includes both

In the last few years, I've had numerous conversations with various people on renewable energy generation. And most of them, even those with much more technical savvy than I have, were missing some critical pieces of the puzzle in their understanding of the rapid growth of Solar in North Carolina and elsewhere. In example, here's a paraphrased conversation from a few months ago:

Lifelong Republican questions attacks on renewable energy

Hopefully the beginning of a movement:

In Forsyth County where I live, we have more than 75 renewable energy projects, including biomass and solar on corporate, residential, educational and government properties or projects producing power that’s sold directly to a utility. We also have 45 EnergyStar certified buildings and 27 LEED-certified buildings. Clean energy is an engine to create jobs and generate much-needed investment in all 100 counties of North Carolina.

Americans for Prosperity (AFP) held a “Free the Grid Tour” event in Winston-Salem last week about the “power struggle” in North Carolina, inviting the community to “return power to the people.” However, they’re also calling for the repeal of the REPS law — and the resulting market competition. As a free-market issue, how can AFP and other clean-energy critics want to return power to the people, but strip them of our state’s limited market competition and choice?

The answer is simple, really. AFP was created and is funded by the fossil fuel industry, and renewable energy is a direct threat to their profit margins. You don't need one of the Koch Industries' leaky pipelines to run a Solar farm or a biomass facility, and energy-efficient buildings reduce the 'load" demand on coal and natural gas power plants. What happened recently in Asheville is a prime example. Duke Energy was given permission to build two nat gas power plants, but their 3rd "backup" plant was rejected as not necessary:

Van der Vaart: Restrict Solar, incentivize nuclear

Apparently our definition of the word "clean" has been wrong until now:

One proposal discussed Wednesday would require a state permit for any new solar farm. That would give the state the final say on whether a property owner can lease his or her land for solar. It would also require a bond for eventual removal of the equipment.

"We are a huge solar state, and we have to put our big boy pants on and treat it as such," Secretary of Environmental Quality Donald van der Vaart told the Energy Policy Council.

Where do I start? I'm tempted to start with "big boy pants," but that's so stupid it could derail the entire conversation. How about: When Bev Perdue was still Governor but the GOP had taken over the Legislature, that august body engaged in a fact-finding tour, with the sole purpose of undermining DENR. Witness after witness whined about the over-regulation of the environmental agency, and how the sluggish permitting process was stifling economic growth. And now the new Secretary is proposing to do just that; clamp down on property owners and "control" the growth of Solar via bureaucratic delays and costly (and unnecessary) safety protocols. If irony was a toxic substance, we'd all be dead by now. But even worse, van der Vaart's alternative could actually kill us:

The disingenuous faux-Libertarian attack on renewables

Ripping up the astroturf:

The attack dogs in this war are funded by Koch Industries and include Americans for Prosperity, American Energy Alliance and the American Legislative Exchange Council. They frame their attacks as a defense of the free market and fiscal conservatism. Yet even a cursory examination of their positions reveals they’re not defending the free market but attempting to protect the fossil fuel industry from competition.

Not sure if this Conservative's opinion signals a movement growing or is simply an anomaly, but the fossil fuel industry's actions are blatantly obvious. Harnessing clean, renewable energy resources like Solar has been a wildly popular idea for decades, and now that we're finally seeing a massive surge in installations, any pushback on that is liable to carry a heavy political price. One can hope, anyway.

Argumentum ad Temperantiam brings REPS to its knees

Also known as "middle ground" or "appeal to moderation" logical fallacies:

When a similar bill filed this session was voted down in committee, Hager added the substance of the bill as an amendment to Regulatory Reform Act of 2015. Hager’s amendment capped the requirement at 6 percent and set it to expire altogether in 2018.

After push back from supporters of renewable energy, a compromise amendment approved late Wednesday caps the rate permanently at 6 percent and repeals an 80 percent property-tax break that solar farms and facilities now receive. “It saves REPS but freezes it,” said Rep. Pricey Harrison (D-Guilford), who fought to establish the standards in 2007.

I would never dream of questioning or advising Pricey on legislative matters or environmental issues. That being said, it's my understanding that Hager's amendment (which, as a bill, couldn't make it out of Committee) was withdrawn when this "compromise" amendment was accepted. Meaning an amendment with a questionable chance of passing on the floor served as a "lever" to swing votes for this other, less damaging amendment. Here's a question for lawmakers: If either of these amendments were put forward by themselves, where no comparisons or compromises were involved, would either have passed?

Jeter amendment guts Renewable Energy Portfolio Standard

Common sense gets lost in the crossover shuffle:

The proposal introduced Wednesday night as an amendment to House Bill 760, a regulatory reform measure, would cap the REPS requirement at 6 percent permanently and would allow a utility to claim energy-efficiency savings for up to half of that requirement. Power companies could seek reimbursement from ratepayers for any investments or contracts they've already entered into in order to meet the higher renewables requirements that the proposal repeals.

The measure would also repeal an 80 percent property tax break that solar farms and facilities currently receive.

And this amendment passed 98-18, meaning a whole lot of Democrats have some explaining to do.

NC's wildly successful REPS law under attack

And big surprise, Mike Hager is leading the charge:

The Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency Portfolio Standard, called REPS, was the first in the Southeast when lawmakers adopted it in 2007. The law says utilities have to generate increasing amounts of energy from the sun, wind and organic wastes, or from energy efficiency. It set an ultimate green-energy target of 12.5 percent of retail sales by 2021.

A bill sponsored by two chairs of the House Public Utilities committee and Majority Leader Mike Hager cuts that target by half. It makes the final target 6 percent, this year’s benchmark, and ends the mandate in 2018.

Most of you are probably aware of what our Renewable Energy Portfolio Standard is and what it does, but for those who aren't, I talked about this on our radio program five years ago (about the 18 minute mark). The program was already working well back then, but I wouldn't have dreamed it could be where it is today. In a time when most government programs fall well short of their original goals, to tear down one of the few that actually works the way it's supposed to is just plain stupid. And so is smothering this kind of needed rural revenue:

NC's offshore wind energy moving forward

With some nudging from President Obama:

The North Carolina lease is part of the Obama Administration’s Smart from the Start offshore wind energy initiative, which aims at coordinating and streamlining development of designated Wind Energy Areas (WEAs).

The WEAs for North Carolina were designated last summer pending a final environmental assessment. For those of you keeping score at home, the total comes to more than 300,000 acres divided among three parcels: Kitty Hawk (122,405 acres), Wilmington West (51,595 acres), and Wilmington East (about 133,590 acres).

North Carolina is currently ranked #4 for new Solar PV installation, but we could (very easily) also be ranked #1 for offshore wind in the very near future. But we can expect some pushback from the fossil fuel industry, which has its hands way up the skirt of our General Assembly. Be ready to march. And when the doubters start turning up their noses, tell them this:

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